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How to Improve Employee Annual Evaluations?

Research: the impact of performance evaluations on an individual's network.
Published on
19 December 2017

Employees often perceive annual evaluations as stressful, childish or demotivating. As a result, this performance measurement tool is controversial and could gain much if it was improved to encourage positive interactions between employees and evaluators. We speak with Isabelle Né, a professor and researcher at Grenoble Ecole de Management who specializes in behavior in organizations and psycho-social risks.

What should be the goal of an annual evaluation?

The evaluation, or better yet, the appreciation is a logical part of job and competency management systems. Evaluations are designed to help understand a company's needs and encourage growth in terms of career advancement, skills or specific knowledge.

You have to think of how to anticipate, adapt, evolve, develop and management talent. Evaluations are particularly useful in terms of analyzing jobs (job tasks, descriptions, required skills, and needs in terms of adaptation, evolution and training). An evaluation tool should be structured in terms of these needs. Think about the future, not just the past.

Can you speak about some fundamental concepts that are useful in terms of evaluations?

It's important that we underline the fact that a negative evaluation leads to a loss of motivation, engagement and can sometimes encourage a depression or burnout, in particular for employees who are very invested in company life. Remember that you are not evaluating an individual, but their work. This distinction is essential to everything else I will suggest. Avoid categorizing people as skilled or unskilled.

Remember that work is not simply a sum of key figures. Employees often have key knowledge of their job which is unknown to management. This is part of the concept put forth by Christophe Déjours, which underlines the difference between real work and assigned work. In other words, how employees actually appropriate their job and its tasks.

One of the first recommendations you make in terms of annual evaluations is the fact companies should create an evaluation that includes meetings, informal exchanges, and even other employees. Why?

This collaborative approach helps overcome fears of being judged or treated in a childish manner. Much like student evaluations for teachers, this approach enables employees to speak more freely about their experience and their difficulties. Informal exchanges during the year enable employees to speak about problems more immediately and not wait until the end of the year.

How do you then integrate informal exchanges into a structured evaluation?

A formal meeting can be a good way to speak about personal troubles or even an employee's boredom at a given job. However, this doesn't mean you have to record everything, especially if it concerns personal troubles.

You and other researchers highlight the need to go beyond taylorism…

Transforming the role of managers is the key to transforming annual evaluations! This means not thinking in terms of being a “control” person, but rather a “support” person who has the capacity to listen and address issues as they arise. Currently, managers have to deal with complex markets and organizations. The solution is to act as a “servant leader” who is at the service of employees.

Horizontal management organizations are less complex and managers are there to provide support. Individuals are rarely “checked up” on. There’s a real paradox between school and work. Young children are taught to become autonomous and organizations are constructed on the opposite postulat.

As a result, you highlight the need to leave behind rigid evaluation methods and adopt a certain flexibility…

Flexibility enables conversations and a real discussion about careers and possible advancement. What's done, is done. You have to look to the future, especially when there are major problems. The real conversation is about listening and providing empathy in order to overcome sticky situations. It's essential for quality customer relations. And in the same way, it's essential for employees. The less they feel like they're being treated in a childish manner, the more responsibility they can take on.

A study by Deloitte highlights the importance of managerial training in order to improve positive and constructive feedback…

The feeling that work can "lose its meaning" is not new. Individuals have always tried to appropriate their job. In organizational theory, many support the idea of participative approaches because it's very different thing to have power "over" individuals versus "with" them. This provides managers with legitimacy and they don't have to coerce employees.

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